Chhapaak (2020)

Chhapaak is a 2020 Hindi language film by celebrated director Meghna Gulzar. It narrates the story of Malti, a 19 year old girl who survives acid violence and overcomes the stigma attached with it. The movie captures her journey of self discovery, activism and finding love. The story is loosely based on Laxmi Agarwal’s real life story. The movie is led by Deepika Padukone and Vikrant Massey.

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Deepika Padukone as Malti [credit: IMDb]

Chhapaak: Acid Violence or Self-Discovery?

My biggest and only pet peeve with Chhapaak was confusion with the primary intention for telling the story. It started off by presenting a unique take on the acid violence narrative. The incident is not even mentioned for the first few minutes. Instead, we get to zoom in on Malti and her struggles of finding a job owing to her unconventional looks. She does not want to capitalize on her tragedy. In fact, she has no time to think about it because she can’t make any money. Her family is also going through some hard financial times adding additional pressure on her to find some way out. We see the attack for the first time in a flashback when she encounters other survivors through Amol’s NGO. Here, the screenplay begins to crumble as various timelines get melded together and the film’s pacing devolves.

The problem with the script is that the story works better as the coming of age of a girl who survived a tragic attack on her person and soul. But given the sensitivity of the topic, Meghna and co-writer Atika Chohan could not finish the movie without expressing rage at the causes of acid violence and frustration at the system for lacking proper laws of dealing with acid attackers. While there is a direct connection of these ideas with Malti’s narrative, something was lost in the execution. However, Meghna saves the movie by the last scene, which openly expressed fury at how easily acid is available to the public even today.

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Malti and Amol: the nok-jhok couple [credit: IMDb]

Deepika’s gorgeous transformation

What made the movie worth every bit of time and money was the complete commitment of Deepika Padukone to her role. Breathing life into a character that she shares so little in common with, Deepika never tries to overdo the horror  or tears. She is perfect as the sad, angry, happy, impatient and often cold Malti.

I would be remiss in not talking about Vikrant Massey.  He gave so much tiny nuances to Amol, making him feel like a real guy. He beautifully crafts Amol’s outrage at the system, numerous attempts to understand Malti and final surrender to her love. I hope to see more of him in movies. Finally, the last thing worth mentioning is the beautiful soundtrack of the film. The Chhapaak title song adds an additional layer to the pain and trauma of the violence. And nok jhok beautifully expresses the growing closeness between Malti and Amol.

Chhapaak is available in cinemas across the world.